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I try new moisturizers all the time, not necessarily because I need a new one or because my current one isn’t working, but because I am the victim of a weird personal delusion that finding the “perfect” moisturizer will change my life. In fact, I have declared a moisturizer “perfect” on several occasions, but then within a few months or even weeks I’m back on the search for one that’s even better. It’s a certain type of commitment phobia—like, how am I supposed to use just one moisturizer when there are so many out there to be given a whirl?
And so, like every prick on Tinder who you date for three months and then he ghosts on you and then you found out he swiped right on, like, eight of your friends (or, fine, like Goldilocks, if you want a more chaste visual), I’ve tried many, many options on for size. My picks are almost always of the lightweight variety—my skin gets plenty dehydrated, but if I’m dry I prefer to layer with an oil or serum instead of coat myself in a thick cream. (Your mileage may vary; I just feel like my skin gets more much-needed nutrients that way.) So lightweight moisturizers, no matter what the season, are kind of my jam.
As a fortunate individual who has the luxury of trying many products at a very low cost (free), I’ve become reasonably well-versed in which ones are worth real money—as in, your money (and mine, because even a beauty editor needs to replenish their own supply from time to time). Lo, the five best lightweight moisturizers I truly, from the bottom of my heart, recommend. Wear ’em on their own in the summer, slap ’em on under a rich oil in the winter—these babies are the real deal.
I have finicky skin that appreciates some degree of consistency, so in between sampling new moisturizers, there are two that I rely on to keep my complexion cool, calm, and under control: the unparalleled Mirakle Cream, for when I need the skin care equivalent of being wrapped tightly in a thick blanket, and this one, for warm weather, for days when I’m feeling rather oily, and beyond. It feels like a gel, but imparts far more hydration than most, thanks to an 85-percent moisture content (from phytoncide water, Google that shit!) and a rich formula packed with ceramidin lipid capsules that help to keep skin balanced throughout the day. Aloe vera makes it very soothing, and an utter lack of scent makes it ideal for even the most sensitive skin. Yes, mine included.
I fully support the use of oils in serums, moisturizers, and pretty much everything ever, so formulas that boast their oil-free status don’t impress me much—honestly, a lot of them just aren’t able to fulfill my moisture needs and keep my combination skin balanced the way oils do. But this one is a cut above others I’ve tried: Amino acids, algae extracts, and oil-absorbing “spheres” keep oily areas shine-free and drier areas well-hydrated. It may very well be the only oil-free moisturizer I’ve ever experienced that’s truly moisturizing as well as practically weightless. No fragrance, no frills, just a simple reliable standby that does exactly as it says.
A moisturizer that doubles as sun protection is a coup to begin with; a super lightweight, antioxidant-rich moisturizer that triples as sun protection and an anti-ager is another story entirely. Despite its lightweight texture, this one is very, very hydrating, so much so that it’s best suited for complexions in the combination-normal-dry range more than those with oily, acne-prone skin. But as someone with acne-prone skin that also errs on the dehydrated side, I find it perfect for everyday, all year round—and shea butter, green tea extracts, and chemical and physical sunscreens are pretty much everything you could ask for to protect skin in every feasible way.
Kiehl’s Skin Rescuer, $40
There was a time in my life several years ago wherein I was making several bad lifestyle choices, and my skin was acting accordingly: It was dry and flaky in some parts (cheeks and forehead), sprouting cysts in others (general chin area), and covered in a smattering of small bumps from smoking and then leaning on my hands. It was so bad! And then I met this moisturizer and all of those things changed. Not the poor behavior—just the skin problems, as if by magic. It’s got all kinds of ingredients that keep skin mollified, like chamomile and rosa gallica, and it also purports to make skin less vulnerable to future stress and premature aging. (I wouldn’t know, necessarily; I’ve since quit smoking as well as eating fried rice for dinner each evening. Vanity won out.)
Straightforward, utilitarian, and distinctly unglamorous, this isn’t something you’d make a beeline for if you’ve got sleek packaging and luxury on the mind. (I almost always do.) But despite its unassuming appearance, the contents are outstanding in their ability to cure what ails ya—as far as it’s only on your face, of course. It’s definitely a lotion rather than a cream, with a silky, lightweight texture that feels like nothing going on, but it’s packed to the gills with hydrating, soothing, redness-reducing ingredients that make an appreciable difference after the first application. The secret is all in the mushrooms—namely, reishi and cordyceps, which are 100-percent magic but not in the fun way. Well, depends what you consider fun.